Tunisian blogger Wafa Ben Hassine attended the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman. Your Middle East picked her brain about it.
What is the Arab Bloggers Meeting?
The Arab Bloggers Meeting has been a gathering point for bloggers in the Arab world since 2008 (Beirut 2008 and 2009, Tunis 2011). It is a space for peer learning where we can not only hear about each other’s experiences and provide support, but also to give feedback and share strategy. The Arab world is in particular need for these kinds of conversations, where many countries share uncertain futures. Among the topics discussed are digital security, storytelling, and internet governance structure in the Arab region.
What was the best part of the event?
Talking with friends I have, up until that point, only spoken to online. Listening to my friends talk about the human rights situation in their respective countries was moving, insightful, and truly unforgettable. I was involved in the Internet governance track, where I helped lead a group conversation on internet governance in the region and what needs to be done to facilitate our work, as digital rights advocates, in this sphere.
Was there someone in particular you were excited to meet?
Oh, I was excited to meet everyone! I will say though, meeting those I have known for years on an exclusively online basis felt so surreal. The two worlds (IRL ‘in real life’ and digital) were finally colliding.
What did it give you?
It helped me understand that while the world is an oyster, it is a very internally diverse one. It helped me understand that even using the term ‘Arab world’ can be so misleading – our region is a historically rich one where different narratives all coexist. Yet, at the same time, the issues we face are in essence very similar. An example: UAE history is very different than Tunisian history. However – I had no idea that 94 individuals are now being detained in the UAE because of remarks made on Twitter. Theirs is a struggle for freedom of speech – and is that not our struggle as Tunisians? It is important to remember our cultural idiosyncrasies when assessing our situations in regards to digital rights.
Why do you think these kinds of events are important?
Not only is it needed, but it is imperative. Today more than ever, Arab bloggers are struggling against state surveillance and censorship. And these issues are not just in the cloud somewhere ‘up there’ – they affect the daily lives of those who simply need a space to speak. But how can we speak our minds with the threats of imprisonment and legal action? To counter such threats, rights-oriented groups and individuals must strategize and unite. Now more than ever.